The embattled Interim Management Committee of the Niger Delta Development Commission paid N570m to some staff members to undergo training programmes when Nigeria was on total lockdown following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The disclosure is contained in the report of the Senate ad hoc committee set up to unravel the alleged financial recklessness perpetrated by the IMC between October 1999 and May 2020.
A copy of the panel’s report obtained by Saturday PUNCH on Friday showed that N143m was paid to individual members of staff on April 1, 2020, to attend a participatory budget conference.
Incidentally, according to the report, “this period happens to be during the COVID-19 lockdown. It is obvious that the conference was not attended as the country was on absolute lockdown.”
The panel, therefore, recommended that the entire sum be refunded by the staff members concerned.
“This payment was made to five members of staff averaging almost N28m per person,” it stated.
The report also added that N171m was paid in cash to 300 drivers on February 3, 2020, to attend a driver training course, scheduled to take place when the nation was on lockdown.
The panel noted that the culture of cash payments to individual staff seems to be a standard practice at the NDDC.
“This custom is not only unethical; it lacks transparency and accountability. NDDC must do away with this practice as a way of improving its duty of stewardship,” the report stated.
It also added that the IMC paid N150m on April 3, 2020, to some NDDC union executives for an International Labour Organisation conference in Turin, Italy.
“Incidentally, this period also happens to be during the COVID-19 lockdown. It is evident that the beneficiaries of these payments could not travel out of the country as a result of the COVID-19 travel restriction.
“Hence, this sum must be refunded by the union members concerned,” the report added.
The report also revealed the names of “delegates” who attended the graduation ceremony of NDDC scholars in the United Kingdom in June 2020.
It also stated that the total cost of the trip was N85.6m, paid to 14 staff members to travel to the United Kingdom.
The report stated, “The composition of the travellers includes the MD/CEO, Prof (Daniel) Pondei; the Executive Director, Projects, Dr Cairo Ojougboh; and another Director, Mr Luke lbanga.
“These payments demonstrate a form of internal control failure in the NDDC, especially with the management’s choice to subject such transactions as cash payments to individual staff members.”